Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders (TMD) is the term for several conditions that cause pain and dysfunction in the jaw joint and muscles that control jaw movement. People may also call them TMJ disorders.
TMJ is short for temporomandibular joint. This is the name for the two joints on either side of the jaw.
This article looks at whether pain associated with TMJ disorders can affect the neck. It also discusses how to treat the pain and how to prevent it.
Can TMJ disorders cause neck pain?
TMJ disorders can cause a person to experience pain that affects the face, jaw, or neck. Up to 70% of people diagnosed with a TMD report neck pain as a symptom.
Doctors usually recommend more conservative treatments.
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), these include:
- eating soft foods
- applying heat or cold to the painful site
- avoiding extreme jaw movements
- avoiding nail biting, using chewing gum, or clenching the jaw
- learning and practicing jaw stretching and relaxing exercises
- using over-the-counter pain medicines or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen
- participating in behavioral therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy or biofeedback
- massaging the neck muscles
According to MouthHealthy, doctors may recommend medications, including anti-anxiety medications, muscle relaxants, or antidepressants.
A person can also try complementary treatments, such as acupuncture or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENs). However, there appears to be limited evidence to suggest that these can help TMDs.
If these treatments are not effective, a doctor may recommend other forms of treatment.
Intraoral appliances are devices that a person places directly inside the mouth. Other names include nightguards, splints, or stabilization appliances.
The NIDCR notes that evidence suggesting that there is limited evidence to suggest these are effective at treating TMD pain.
If a doctor recommends that someone use one of these, people should ensure that it is not designed to change their bite permanently.
People should also stop using them and consult a dentist or doctor if pain develops.
Botox involves injecting botulinum toxin Type A into the muscles needed for chewing. However, there is limited evidence to suggest the efficacy of Botox as a treatment for TMD.
Experts suggest that people should avoid treatments involving surgery or that make permanent changes to the jaw or teeth, as there is not enough supporting evidence to suggest that these treatments work.
If conservative treatments have not worked, surgery may be an option for some people. This surgery permanently changes a person’s joints. This is why doctors do not recommend it often.
The way to prevent TMJ neck pain is by aiming to prevent TMJ disorders in general.
A person may wish to:
- wear a mouthguard at night to prevent teeth grinding
- regularly exercise and stretch to help strengthen muscles in the neck and jaw area
- maintain good posture
- have regular physical therapy
- avoid clenching the jaw
- try to stop nail biting
- avoid chewing gum
Other symptoms that a person may experience alongside neck pain include:
- pain in the jaw joint
- pain in the muscles responsible for chewing
- pain in other areas of the face
- hearing loss
- ringing in the ears
- ear pain
- misalignment of the teeth
- clicking, grating, or popping causing pain when opening or closing the mouth
- limited jaw movement or locking
- grinding of teeth
Some people may experience all the above symptoms, whereas others may only experience some.
There is currently no standard test to diagnose a TMJ disorder. Therefore, it can be difficult to receive a diagnosis. However, people should speak with a doctor if they have pain that does not resolve using home remedies and treatments.
Doctors may refer people to a physical therapist who can design a bespoke exercise plan for them to follow to improve the flexibility and strength of the jaw.
People should contact a doctor if they have experienced trauma to their jaw or surrounding areas that seem to have caused the pain.
Additionally, if any of the following symptoms occur, people should consider these ‘red flags’ according to a 2018 article:
- inability to open the mouth
- persistent pain
- worsening pain
- difficulty balancing
- asymmetrical swelling of the jaw or neck
- hearing loss
- weight loss
Some people with TMDs find that their symptoms resolve without treatment.
If a person needs treatment, experts usually recommend that this treatment be conservative and reversible. This helps resolve TMDs in most people.
Neck pain is a common symptom of TMDs and can often cause people a lot of discomforts.
Lifestyle changes and conservative treatment is usually enough to remedy this pain.
In more severe cases, doctors may recommend surgery, but it is important to remember that this is not reversible and can sometimes be ineffective or even worsen the problem.